I was first introduced to the word mindfulness by my 8-year-old son. We go to the gym every day. To catch pokemon. Pokemon Go is one of our bonding activities because it gets us outside doing physical activity and also engages a mutual interest (#MyHealth). On this particular pokemon hunt, Carter commented offhandedly that they did mindful pokemon yoga in school earlier that day.
Mindfulness is trendy right now. How trendy? You might ask. It is the single fastest growing health trend in America. Meditative practice for health reasons has tripled in the past five years, and the trend doesn’t show any signs of slowing, despite the relative nascency of research on its concrete health benefits. Anecdotally, and according to early studies, it does promote positive mental health, even if it has been “oversold.”
Yet when Carter first told me the story about mindful yoga in school, my first thought was admittedly accompanied by both fear and indignation, “why is my child practicing another religion in school?” Fortunately, I felt the Spirit gently nudge me to a listening posture, and I sat with Christyn and Carter over supper and let them teach me.
They eagerly explained that mindfulness means attention to the present moment, not to the past or future, and that it can be focusing on things like breathing, our bodies, or our senses. It is a “moment to moment awareness of one’s experience without judgment.” I asked the kids to describe some mindfulness activities, and they described things like mindfully eating a piece of chocolate or taking a few moments to think about your happiest place or memory, or just trying to think of five things you can see, or hear, or smell – grounding exercises.
So, mindfulness does not have to be a religious practice. I have practiced mindfulness throughout my life without thinking about it as such. However, the modern-day mindful movement does undoubtedly have roots in Eastern religions, especially Buddhism. The term “mindful” is derived from the Buddhist concept of sati (a Pali word with added meaning in the religious context). For this reason, I thought it was important to draw lines with my kids to help them understand where the mental health practice ends and religion begins. That way, when they practice in school, they can practice in a way that is consistent with their Christian faith.
One of the most beneficial exercises for us was actually combing the scriptures for references to meditation. We discovered together that the Bible mentions meditation no less than 23 times. The most common words are hāgâ (murmur, sigh) and sîḥâ (muse, rehearse). If we are not practicing meditation in a Biblical sense, we are missing out on a vital dimension of the spiritual life – a practice we are instructed to perform (eg. Psalm 1:2; 4:4; 119:15, 148).
Here are some practical ways we can incorporate scriptural meditation into our everyday lives:
- Pay attention to posture. There is no right or wrong posture in prayer, but as C.S. Lewis said in Letters to Malcolm. “The body ought to pray as well as the soul. Body and soul are both better for it.” In the mornings, for example, I like to pray in a comfortable, receptive sitting posture. When I am confessing or interceding, I prefer to kneel.
- Chew on the Scriptures. Rather than rushing through my morning readings, at points I will take a pause in the text to simply focus on one verse or phrase, reciting it over and over again and letting it soak into my heart and mind. There is something refreshing in the morning just taking 10 minutes to reflect on “Be still and know that I am God,” or “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.”
- Worship Imaginatively. Many worship songs are designed to facilitate this. Classic hymns like In the Garden, or How Great Thou Art are great examples. It’s hard not to be imaginative when you are singing, “when through the woods and forest glades I wander.” When my kids take their mindful moments in school and practice their “happy place” meditation, I encouraged them to imagine themselves in God’s presence, or in heaven, or doing something they love and imagining Jesus watching them with joy.
- Practice Gratitude. There is an ancient Christian practice called, “The Daily Examen,” where we take a few minutes to reflect on our day to confess our sins, express gratitude, and ask for the graces that we evidently need. Doing this imaginative reflection on our day puts our hearts in a posture of thanksgiving and helps us not to miss out on some of the important spiritual lessons we can learn from our circumstances, thoughts and actions.
Whatever our thoughts on the modern-day mindfulness movement, from all appearances, it is here to stay. As Christians we are called to be wise and to make the most of every opportunity (Ephesians 5:15-16). For this parent, it means teaching my kids to understand their culture and respond to it in a way that is consistent with their Biblical worldview. I am grateful for the opportunity this cultural moment has created to explore an aspect of the Christian faith that I have sometimes unintentionally neglected.